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31 August 2023

Acknowledging animals’ role on the WaSH agenda

Hélène Le Deunff, SIWI’S Programme Manager at the session titled ‘Putting animals on the WASH agenda’.

With the world running out of fresh water, it is more vital than ever to use this resource smartly to strive for more sustainable food systems. While clean and safe water is essential for human, animal and ecosystem health, contaminated water and poor sanitation must be addressed as linked to transmission of waterborne diseases. As such, One Health recognises that “the health of humans, domestic and wild animals, plants and the wider environment (including ecosystems) are linked and interdependent”.

Access to safe WaSH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) is crucial and a cost-effective health intervention that saves lives. However, adopting an integrated WaSH approach is necessary to expand its application to animal exposure. As such, as part of this year’s World Water Week, organised by SIWI in Stockholm, the session “Putting animals on the WaSH agenda” focused on the shared risks and opportunities at the animal, human and water interfaces.

The session investigated the ways to enhance the connection between animal health and WaSH measures. How can animals contribute to WaSH, and what are the various trade-offs to consider from different viewpoints concerning health, food production, biodiversity, animal welfare, security, and humanitarian aspects?

A harmful proximity between humans and animals

As humans and animals are increasingly living in close proximity to each other, in many places people and animals share the same water resource. However, this closeness can turn out hazardous and water can worsen the phenomenon. As acknowledged by Carolina Probst, Division for pandemic prevention and preparedness, One Health, Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, more than 75% of all newly emerging infectious diseases in humans are issued from animals. So, are we doing enough?

It is an urgent call to action to put a spotlight on animal health in the context of one health and especially in the context of WASH” – Dr. Carolina Probst.

In Africa and Southeast Asia, more than 50% of households keep domestic livestock, and additionally, two-thirds of all animal faeces are generated at the household level and must be managed accordingly, highlighted Linus Dagerskog, Research fellow, SIANI at SEI. Moreover, the animal sector is one of the fastest growing agricultural sectors in low- and middle-income countries, emphasising the urgency of the issue, outlined Sasha Koo-Oshima, Deputy Division Director – Lead on One Water One Health, FAO.

Unlike many cities, the animal sector often lacks adequate wastewater disposal facilities, particularly in large and medium-sized livestock husbandry, resulting in polluted water released into the environment. Thus, water can be a vector for spreading zoonoses diseases in the environment and ultimately to humans. Women are often more prone to infection and exposed to the risk because of their close interactions with animals, pointed out Michel Dione, Senior Scientist – Animal Health Animal and Human Health Program, International Livestock Research Institute.

Moreover, antibiotics used in livestock, fish and crops will also end up in the environment and be transported by water. Thereby, this excessive use of antibiotics leads to antimicrobial resistance and pollution of the environment, expressed Sasha Koo-Oshima.

To combat waterborne diseases, antimicrobial resistance and pollution of the environment, it is paramount to recognise the importance of infectious disease prevention and control, including water security, sanitation and hygiene as well as the potential benefits in soil fertility.


Linus Dagerskog, Research Fellow at the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) during his presentation.

Calling for greater consideration of animals and water

In this context, it is crucial to examine WaSH’s role in the more extensive human health system. Traditionally, its focus has been narrowed and centred around maintaining human health by preventing disease transmission from human excreta. However, taking a systems approach reveals the complex interrelations and connections that can pose challenges. In that sense, the One Health Approach seeks to balance and sustainably optimise the health of humans, animals and ecosystems and recognise the interconnectedness and the need to work across sectors at different levels. Therefore, pairing these aspects with the WaSH principles is highly relevant, explained Linus Dagerskog.

Michel Dione reiterated that WaSH has historically focused more on human waste and largely ignored animal waste. However, failing to account for animal waste would be a significant gap, especially in areas like Africa where livestock production systems are prevalent.

“It is evident that we must address not only the presence of the animals but also the waste related to their feeding and agriculture, and even the waste related to their manure”.

This issue is fundamental to the rural community in Mali and has been neglected for far too long. The community, the object of the study, requested action, which highlights the urgency of this matter.

While entire communities rely on working animals for their subsistence and transportation of water supply, those animals also face numerous welfare issues, reminded Debbie Warboys, World Horse Welfare. So, it’s urgent to adopt multifaceted approaches that recognise the interconnectedness of animal welfare and universal access to water. It is also important to note that valuable wealth may emanate from using animal faecal waste to improve soil quality.

Moreover, watersheds must be restored, protected and combined with sustainable WaSH initiatives as they have a significant role in providing ecosystem services. Local communities will strongly increase their stewardship and resilience from such interventions since cleaner and safer water will be available, stipulated Janet C. Edmond, Senior Director, Conservation International.

A way forward

Early detection and response frameworks are crucial in preventing disease outbreaks. In this sense, FAO seeks to strengthen national policies and action plans on health, water and food security and to provide decision-support tools for policymakers and managers to limit the spread of food borne and zoonotic antimicrobial-resistant microorganisms.

If we plan to couple the traditional WaSH to the One Health approach, we need to upgrade WaSH policies and interventions and align them with the One Health approach. This will help us tackle zoonosis, AMR, environmental pollution, and nutrient losses.

Kenya is an inspiring example as policies have already made the links between WaSH and the One Health approach. As such, the document “Rural Sanitation and Hygiene Protocol” grades the protocol in three levels: 1) Open Defecation Free, 2) Safe and Sustainable and 3) Clean and Healthy.

Nonetheless, Kenya is lacking strategy and guiding documents to operationalise the policies, emphasised Linus Dagerskog.

Michel Dione stressed that given the high priority of health and wellness, it is crucial to establish a strong business case with compelling case studies, and adding

”the topic of WASH is relatively new, but with support from the scientific community we can achieve great statistical outcomes to present”.

Part of the presentation of Michel Dione, Senior Scientist – Animal Health, Animal and Human Health Programme at the International Livestock Research Institute.

Technologies can be very pertinent to ensure the One Health framework. As such, pathogen surveillance encompasses the need to sample the full lifecycle of the pathogens, including water, environment, food and animal surveillance. Collecting data in breaking silos is relevant to make linkages in the One Health sphere. A common database needs to be used to harness the full potential of the data. In the USA, it was observed that investing $1 dollar in this technology results in $10 savings, outlined Eric Stevens, CFSAN Codex Program Coordinator, US Food and Drug Administration.

Lastly, natural shocks such as droughts, floods and earthquakes, among others, can have severe impacts on the water sector as well as on water-related sectors. International guidance can be used to face these humanitarian crises. The Livestock Emergency Guidelines and Standards (LEGS) is a set of international standards supporting better-quality livestock-based responses contributing to enhancing the livelihoods of affected communities and building peace, expressed Suzan Bishop, Technical and Project Manager, Livestock Emergency Guidelines and Standards.


In a nutshell, animal, human and water sectors can be tackled through six integrated approaches: humanitarian, health, food production, biodiversity, animal welfare and security. Interdisciplinary collaboration coupled with multi-stakeholder approaches will help to address water security concerns at the human-animal-environment interface.


Written by David Mingasson, SIANI reporter

Event recording